Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My November Guest by Robert Frost

It's Wednesday, which usually calls for a bit of Shakespeare around here, at least since June and Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month. And so, dear friends, this quote from The Life and Death of Richard II, which I've not yet read. (I know, I know - I shall get to it, I promise. But if you could only see my ridiculously ginormous TBR pile . . . )

'Tis very true, my grief lies all within;
And these external manners of lament
Are merely shadows to the unseen grief
That swells with silence in the tortured soul[.]
Richard II, Act IV, sc. 1.

Today, though, a poem from an American bard, Robert Frost, who, as I discussed before when I talked about his poem, "Desert Places", back in March of last year appears to have struggled a bit with depression. In this particular poem he personifies his sorrow, making it a female companion. (Or perhaps his wife had seasonal affective disorder? Kidding. Mostly. I actually think it was Frost who had this particular condition, although I can't say so for certain.)

My November Guest
by Robert Frost

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain* to list**:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

*fain: happy
**list: listen

This poem is in iambic tetrameter (four iambic feet per line - taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), with a rhyme scheme (per stanza) of ABAAB. In this poem, Frost personifies his sorrow, whom he sets apart from himself, saying that his sorrow loves the bleaker days of winter, but he (or rather, his unsorrowful part) couldn't see it. For a while, his melancholy side pestered him about it, and he finally learnt "the love of bare November days before the coming of the snow", perhaps in the same way that Catherine Morland "just learnt to love a hyacinth" in Northanger Abbey.

I confess to finding much beauty in the bareness of November, with its shorter days and longer shadows. That said, I find I still prefer the sunnier days to the grey, although I have a dear friend who loves the November rain. I suppose this poem celebrates that grey November rain, and when it comes (as it will), I shall do my best to appreciate its beauty.

I particularly admire Frost's decision to use two obsolete words in that second stanza - and within the same line, no less. He says he is "fain to list" to his Sorrow as she speaks of the beauties of the season, meaning he's happy to listen. I would fain use the word "fain", and almost put it into the poem I wrote over the weekend, but a quick reality check with assured me that most people would not know what I'm talking about, which is pretty much what I thought when I asked. Still, those words were already obsolete when he used them, and I think that a more mature Frost would not have made the same choices. Today's poem, however, comes from A Boy's Will, his earliest collection of poems, which was published in 1913.

Kiva - loans that change lives


Anonymous said...

I think using fain to list is appropriate as it points to the archaic meaning of the word vex in the next verse, Would you even think that vex means agitate otherwise?

Kelly Fineman said...

Ooh - nice wordplay note!

PeterL said...

I think the use of the archaic words heightens the sense of dreaminess and points back in time. He seems to emphasize that sorrow and beauty can sometimes exist together. I believe Frost mentioned that he wrote this poem about his mother and her death.

Today is a stormy autumn day in Newfoundland and I shared this poem with my daughter, who also likes it very much.

Bradley said...

This is one of my favorite poems. I can relate even more to it now that I have a further insight into its possible meaning. I wondered, too, if you might know what the line "she's glad her simple worsted gray is silver now with clinging mist" means.

Anonymous said...

i think worsted gray is a fabric
maybe her dress and she likes that it is damp with mist.

Dave Lipstreu said...

It's a characteristic hue the landscape takes on during wet, overcast days in November, provided, however,that the light is just right.Trees especially,and certain tall field grasses can appear silver under such conditions.